Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Incredible Hulk by Jason Aaron vol. 1 (comics)

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artists: Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio
Collects: Incredible Hulk (vol. 4) #1-7

Jason Aaron is a writer who has yet to let me down. That said, I didn't have high hopes for this book. It was announced that Jason Aarons run on the book was, for whatever reason, wrapping up long before the first volume even hit paperback to make way for a new primary Hulk title under the Marvel NOW! banner. That's just not enough time to put together a classic, memorable run and I adjusted my expectations accordingly.

Still, I think the potential was there as the book has an intriguing high concept; what if Bruce Banner was the real monster of the two personalities? Somehow, Hulk has found a way to physically separate the two, allowing them to go their own way. Only problem is that something is clearly wrong with Banner, who has gone off the deep end now that he's been separated from the Hulk; he creates an island full of transformed abominations in his continued effort to recreate the accident that led to the Hulk and is now a danger to the world.

This time, it's the Hulk who has to stop Bruce Banner.

I like the role reversal. It's such a simple idea, but one that we - that I'm aware of - have not seen before. The trouble is, I'm not sure it does the character any favors. The story seems to say that it's possible, had the Hulk never existed, Banner may have ended up as crazed and dangerous to the world as we see him here. I'm not sure that's something I completely buy; in any origin, Banner was at least a good enough person to have been willing to risk his life saving a reckless teenager.

Actually, this seems to be a little bit of a trend of late. I notice some writers have been interested in sort of "redeeming" the Hulk in a way, or making him seem less like a danger and more like a misunderstood teddy bear. It feels like there have been attempts to tone down the destructive qualities of the Hulk, or curb anything that might make him look bad; one glaring example being the time they tried to sell us on the idea that no one had ever died during a Hulk rampage, which even in the realm of fiction is ridiculous. The Hulk is admittedly cool and he represents something we all can relate to - that angry side of us we repress - but I guess I'm trying to say that occasionally it feels as though writers prefer to give him excuses within the narrative.

It's troubling, because I think it dilutes the appeal somewhat. The story does have an out, however; obviously, Hulk couldn't pull off the separation on his own and the person he recieved help from is not known for being the most moral individual. Still, we're clearly meant to at least question if this was who Bruce Banner would have become all along - a mad scientist unleashed - and I feel like something about that question wrecks the dynamic.

Had this been it's own thing - divorced from modern continuity and allowed to simply be, or at least separate enough that you can decide if it's canon or not - it would be a wonderful thing to explore. As it is, it's still an interesting idea and I do want to read the second half of the run. I just have my misgivings.

The art takes a similar approach to Wolverine and the X-Mens first volume - the first three issues with the star artist while another handles some after that - but the switch is far worse than that books. We start off with Marc Silvestri - who has a style I can enjoy well enough - and go right to Whilce Portacio. I hate being down on someones art, I really do, but this is not the first time I've encountered this guys work. I'm sad to say he has not managed to improve a lot since then. There's a higher ratio of decent pages, but the faces, poses and bodies are still borked. The last thing I want to do is begrudge a guy for getting work, but I can't get past how ugly his art can be at times.

The Score: 7 out of 10

An interesting high concept and some good writing manage to elevate this book, but the issues with said concept and the lackluster art in the second half of the book hurt it. I also have to look at the fact that there is only one more volume to this run, which leads me to believe there's little chance it had enough time to reach its full potential. Worth a look if you're a Hulk fan and would like a new take on him.

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